★★★★★

Stranger Things: The First Shadow at Phoenix Theatre captures the essence of the beloved series, mixing nostalgia with a fresh narrative. As I walked into the venue, my anticipation was sky-high after hearing so many amazing reviews of the show.

Immediately upon stepping into The Phoenix Theatre, you’re greeted with the iconic ‘Scoops Ahoy’ ice cream parlour from the TV show, transporting you into Hawkins. Stranger Things: The First Shadow exceeded all of my expectations. Louis McCartney’s central performance left me speechless, seamlessly blending emotion and intensity. The entire cast shone brightly too, making the show the best in London’s West End at the moment.

Louis McCartney as Henry Creel in Stranger Things: The First Shadow. Photography by Manuel Harlan.

Overview of ‘The First Shadow’

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is not just a theatrical spin-off but a prequel to the TV show that delves deep into the origins of Hawkins and ‘The First Shadow’. Crafted by Kate Trefry, a seasoned writer from the original series, the play ensures a seamless narrative continuity that fans of the series will appreciate. Set in 1959, this narrative introduces us to a younger ensemble of the beloved characters, including Jim Hopper (Oscar Lloyd) and Joyce Maldonado (Isabella Pappas), portrayed brilliantly by fresh faces who bring a youthful vigour to the stage.

The storyline centres around Henry Creel (Louis McCartney), who arrives in Hawkins only to grapple with dark, supernatural forces that begin to unfold his sinister transformation into Vecna. This plot not only enriches the Stranger Things lore but also sets a direct parallel to the events known from the series, providing a deeper understanding of the characters’ backstories and the genesis of the Upside Down.

The play is designed to stand alone, making it accessible to newcomers who haven’t ventured into the TV series yet. It explores themes of identity, belonging, and the struggle against predestined paths, wrapped in a production that maintains the series’ trademark charm and suspense. The staging at Phoenix Theatre complements the intense narrative with dynamic sound and visual effects that immerse the audience into the chilling atmosphere of Hawkins.

The show centres around Henry Creel, played by Louis McCartney. Photography by Manuel Harlan.

With performances running until December 2024, ‘Stranger Things: The First Shadow’ offers both a nostalgic trip for fans and a thrilling introduction for new viewers, making it a must-watch for anyone fascinated by the blend of adolescent adventure and supernatural mystery.

Performances and Special Effects

Stepping into the auditorium at the Phoenix Theatre, the scale of ‘Stranger Things: The First Shadow’ immediately strikes you. The opening sequence alone, featuring a U.S. naval vessel in 1943 experimenting with a cloaking device, plunges the audience into a parallel dimension that sets the tone for the entire show within the first two minutes. This visual spectacle, backed by groundbreaking special effects, truly pushes the limits of traditional theatre.

The technical prowess of the creative team, including Miriam Buether’s immersive set designs and the innovative video projections by 59 Productions, transforms the stage into the eerie world of Hawkins with an authenticity that rivals cinematic experiences. The use of lighting, sound effects, puppetry, and projections by the team, notably Jamie Harrison and Chris Fisher, creates a palpable atmosphere that is both thrilling and engaging.

Louis McCartney’s portrayal of Henry Creel stands out, capturing the vulnerability and transformation of his character with a depth that anchors the show’s dramatic intensity. While McCartney shines as the centerpiece, the entire ensemble, including Isabella Pappas and Oscar Lloyd, delivers cohesive and strong performances that highlight their characters’ complexities and contribute to the seamless flow of the narrative.

The production’s commitment to excellence is evident in every aspect, from the precise choreography and direction by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin to the cohesive performances that make ‘Stranger Things: The First Shadow’ a must-watch theatrical event. The play not only meets but exceeds expectations, creating a benchmark for what can be achieved in live theatre.

The show is directed by Stephen Daldry and written by Kate Trefry. Photography by Manuel Harlan.

Comparison to the TV Show

The play faithfully it captures the essence of the TV series while also standing strong as its own unique spectacle. It’s like watching a an episode happen in real life, where the blend of film and theatre crafts an immersive experience that’s both familiar and astonishingly new. For us fans, the numerous nods to familiar characters and events from the series are a delightful treat, enhancing the connection to the Stranger Things universe.

Yet, what truly sets the play apart is its accessibility to newcomers. It’s designed in such a way that even those who haven’t indulged in the TV series can get swept up in the adventure and mystery of Hawkins. This dual appeal is a testament to the show’s versatile storytelling and broad appeal, making it a recommended experience for both long-time fans and those new to the Stranger Things lore.

Final Thoughts

Stranger Things: The First Shadow at Phoenix Theatre not only pays homage to the iconic series but also carves a niche of its own with an original, immersive narrative that has set a new benchmark in live theatre. My journey through the shadowy depths of Hawkins, led by the remarkable Louis McCartney and supported by an equally stellar cast, affirmed the creative excellence that theatre can achieve when at its best. The intertwining of familiar lore with fresh perspectives provided a satisfying blend of nostalgia and new discovery, making it a compelling experience for fans and newcomers alike. The production’s masterful storytelling, reinforced by groundbreaking technical effects, transformed the Phoenix Theatre into a portal to the Upside Down, offering audiences a unique opportunity to engage with their favourite Stranger Things characters in an unprecedented way.

As this theatrical masterpiece continues to captivate audiences, those eager to immerse themselves in the intriguing world of Hawkins should consider securing their tickets well in advance. With performance availability being limited, booking 4-11 weeks out could ensure the best seats to witness this spellbinding conjunction of supernatural mystery and adolescent adventure unfold on the Phoenix Theatre stage. Reflecting on the entire experience, it is the profound performances, particularly that of Louis McCartney, which underscore the entire production’s success, reminding us once again of the power of storytelling to bridge worlds, evoke emotions, and celebrate the human (and supernatural) spirit. Tickets are available here! I promise you won’t regret booking to experience The First Shadow.

Audiences follow Bob, Jim and Joyce, as teenagers in the show before they’re adult characters in the TV series. Photography by Manuel Harlan.